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How to Deal with Verbal Criticism

When people don’t get what they want they can often be quite critical -

Saying things like:

  • ‘You just don't know what you're talking about’,

  • ‘How could you make such a stupid mistake? ’

Maybe there is an element of truth in the comment, but when someone attacks in such a way it can feel like an attack on your whole being.

As the comments are often delivered in an accusatory way it can leave the person on the receiving end feeling attacked on a very personal level, and as a result its likely to lead to an argument. This in turn can lead to long drawn out conflict.

We don't always agree on everything, its just not possible. But being able to express differences without it becoming and aggressive and hostile situation can be very helpful, as it helps us learn more about ourselves and each other.

But when you receive comments like those similar to those I mentioned above, it can feel personal, as though someone is judging your whole being with those cutting comments. As a result you can become defensive , wanting to prove the other person wrong, and what you’re being accused of simply isn't true. This will probably happen if you lack self-esteem and have a poor image of yourself, Because you're more likely to believe what others say about you if you like that self-esteem.

We Quite Often Base the Image of Ourselves on
What Others Say About Us.

We want to be liked and we want others to perceive us as likable people, so if someone makes a comment which doesn't fit with the way we want to be perceived, for example -honest, knowledgeable, kind, funny - we can become extremely defensive because that’s just not the way feel see ourselves or want others to view us.

We may become defensive because there are parts of what they're saying ring true,and that can be hard to take.


You may respond in one of several ways –

  • Decide not to respond, by going quiet or leave the room because you don't want conflict.

  • Accept criticism but defend yourself, by justifying why you’ve behaved in that way on that occasion. ( I was in a hurry, stressed, tired)

  • -Turn it around to the other person and attack them

  • Or respond non- defensively, calmly, acknowledging the other person's need to make that criticism.

  • Ask for clarification, check you understand what they said and what they meant.

  • Accept and agree if there is any truth in any part of what they've said.

  • Rather than going on the attack, it's much better to listen to the other person and be curious about what they have to say. Ask them to explain more fully, so that you can understand what their grievance is.

  • Acknowledge them, which will often diffuse the whole situation. It doesn't mean you have to agree with them or what they have said is the truth but it's their perception of the situation, and it’s respectful to accept that.

Finally stay calm!

If you are struggling with this situation then get in touch –

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1 Comment

Julian Kay
Julian Kay
Jul 27, 2019


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